Hello and welcome to Community Tea, a series where I dive deep into all aspects of community building with community professionals across all industries.
I recently spoke with Yurii Lazaruk, a Community Builder at CodeControl, Community Consultant, and one of the CMX Community’s most active champions.
I sat down with Yurii to talk about his experiences as a community professional in Ukraine and how he tried to kickstart a community industry in a country that didn’t have one. We also talked about how focusing on your community’s minority could be more impactful in the long run, a contentious opinion no doubt but one that actually made a lot of sense as the conversation went on.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
I wanted to have this time with you because I think that you are in such a unique place as a community builder in Ukraine. Where did your work with community begin?
I had an internet shop and I hired an SEO agency and, long story short, they did a bad job. So I signed up for this SEO forum to learn and meet people from other countries. I said, “Why don't we meet in Kyiv?” It was all word of mouth and we kept telling each other, “Oh, that's a good community.” But we didn't use the word community then. It’s just interesting people gathering. And we always had pizza.
Because that’s how you get people to come.
Yeah. I said that we will have a few speakers and so on but we also have pizza, so please come. I kept talking to people and they told others. And that's how the SEO Club started.
But it wasn’t called a community yet.
That came later. I didn't know anything about community. The SEO Club started in 2015 but I only realized that I was doing community work two or three years ago.
SEO Club Ukraine (Image by Yurii Lazaruk)
Why the gap?
It wasn’t a thing in Ukraine yet. But after I started talking about what we were doing, Ukrainian companies reached out to me and said, “We know that you're a community expert. Would you like to work for us?” But I’d say my real start happened when I joined the CMX community.
How did that come about?
So I joined Rosieland newsletter, and Rosie mentioned there the CMX podcast. I started listening to that and I joined the CMX community on Facebook but I wasn’t super active. I thought I didn’t have much to contribute but I stayed to listen to community experts. When war broke out, I reached out to David Spinks [CMX, Founder] and asked him, “I need money. Can you help me find work in the community space?” He made a post and that’s how I ended up doing an audit for the CMX community and with the Cultivators Community with Lisa Barroca [Cultivate, Community Engagement Officer].
And that’s how your community journey began.
I tried to develop the community industry in Ukraine and tried to teach people why it is crucial to have a community, and the benefits you can have from it. But right now I’m focused on the international community. I decided to share my knowledge there. I will learn from other people and I will create some materials. The goal is to create a knowledge base for the future and, eventually, help people in Ukraine, spread the word about community and how to work with it.
I think a lot of us who end up in community have this journey where you start at this place where you’re trying to convince everyone else that community is a thing. But then you discover places where people are already talking about this, where people are congregating and are like, “I already know that community is important. I just want the resources to do it and meet people who can help me do it.”
And once you find those places, it's really hard to go back to the place of just striving to explain it to people.
Sales Hero, the biggest community of sales experts in Ukraine (Image by Yurii Lazaruk)
I think what you're doing is amazing and a win for everyone in the community space because it helps educate people about what community is and the value of it. And it makes our lives as community builders so much easier in the long run. So thank you.
Thank you! Totally! That's why I'm doing this Community Life podcast where I talk to people about themselves, not just about community. I always say that I will try to use the word community as little as I can in our conversations because everyone knows that you are a community expert, but let’s find out who you are as a person! And all those stories help to understand what kind of human you have to be and what skills you need to have to be a good community builder!
I want to ask you, do you have any stories from your childhood that relate to your experience in community? Any stories that show how you work in community from your childhood?
Not really. I would say I wasn’t the community type up until university, or maybe even when I started working.
When I was a risk analyst for a bank and I worked in the back office but I asked our front office to take me with them to meetings. So I started talking to people a little more there. Next, I had the internet shop and the community that I created. So you could say that I learned from practice and from realizing that you are not the only voice in the room.
That makes sense. And I love it as I think our role as community managers or builders is much more the role of a guide than it is to be the hero of the story.
We’re like psychologists in a way, but paid less 😅
Yes! What's a community that you have been a part of that you really admired from a design perspective?
I don't have much experience with design, but I believe that you have to create a safe space for people to be open and just leave them alone. Like in CMX, there are a lot of programs and chapters and there’s CMX Connect. But it’s all run by community members. CMX helps them do it but leaves them alone. It’s like raising a kid. You need to help them a little and then just get out of the way.
CPC Real Talk (Image by Yurii Lazaruk)
What's a mistake you've made as a community manager or builder?
I always make mistakes, and I continue making them. I’m sure we all make mechanical or soft mistakes like clicking on the wrong thing or sending things to the wrong people. I can, however, tell you what I learned from my mistakes. I learned that it's okay to do mistakes and even repeat them sometimes. Also, like in the film “The Greatest Showman,” you don't need everyone to love you, just a few good people.
This was actually one of the first things we talked about in the community club.
If somebody doesn’t want to join the conversation, sometimes it’s best to let them be. Let them lurk, let them learn, let them be in the community or not. Focus on your active members and continue talking to them, even if it's like five people out of a thousand. It will be more valuable to the community if you build strong relationships with these five people, instead of the 995 who don’t want to engage.
How do you track and celebrate those small and big wins? Do you have a system?
I created a Notion page. Right now, it only has four or five wins because I forget to add them, but even that’s enough to remind myself that community is a long play with tiny wins that lead to bigger wins!
What have you learned from those wins?
So I understood that it's okay to be not okay. People are people, and if you are open with them, they will be open with you too. And do not expect anything from anyone so just be present, be here, be curious. And if somebody says “Please stop messaging me,” that’s okay. So stop engaging with that person, but ask why. The why can open a whole new relationship for you. You need to understand why people don't want to continue the conversation. Being a community builder requires constant work on yourself.
Many thanks to Yurii Lazaruk for sharing his experiences and knowledge with us.